“It shocked me deeply and I have never forgotten it,” said Harchi, now 34 and successful novelist and sociologist in Paris.
“It was a way of attributing myself to my origins, of saying that I was not French. “
A review is belatedly engaged in France on its colonial past.
It is run by young writers, filmmakers and researchers like Harchi who challenge the old myth that the millions of people brought in to work after WWII – mostly from Algeria and Morocco – were perfectly integrated under the umbrella. welcoming of the French. citizenship.
“France in the 1950s and 1960s was a place where, if you were Algerian and took the metro, you stood by the wall because you were afraid someone would push you,” said Salima Tenfiche, researcher at the University of Paris.
Last weekend marked the 60th anniversary of the Paris massacre, when dozens, if not hundreds, of Algerian independence protesters were killed by police, many of whom drowned in the Seine – an incident erased from national memory for decades.
The first generation of immigrants responded by building a wall of silence.
“All this stuff, this racism, this humiliation – they couldn’t talk about it with their kids. There was a lot of shame and suffering. Many have never found their place in society, ”said Tenfiche.
Language of exile
Today, a multitude of novelists and artists are helping to tear down this wall.
“Soleil Amer” by Lilia Hassaine, “The Art of Losing” by Alice Zeniter, “La Discrétion” by Faiza Guene, are all inspired by the arrival of their Algerian families in the 1960s by writers in their thirties.
Or there’s Leila Slimani’s bestseller “The Land of Others”, which tells how her Moroccan grandfather met his French grandmother.
“For the first generation, they had to keep a low profile in order to survive. For the second, who had witnessed the sacrifices of their parents, the question of memory was secondary. It is the third generation, far enough removed from this painful history, who to tackle these questions, ”said Tenfiche.
Lina Soualem, 31, has just released a documentary, “Leur Algeria” which examines the experience of her grandparents who came to France in the 1950s.
“We never talked about these things because silence was the norm. A silence that has been passed down from generation to generation as if the language of exile was ultimately silence, ”she told AFP.
His grandfather, largely silent throughout the film, finally opens up when Soualem returns to Algeria and finds his family’s graves – something none of his relatives had done since arriving in France.
He had worked in a knife factory in Clermont-Ferrand.
The city is world famous for its knives, but it could not find any photos of him in the city museum as none were ever taken of Algerian workers.
“It’s not about forgiveness or reconciliation. It’s about memory – the fact that we can finally talk about those people who have always been forgotten in the French national narrative, ”said Soualem.
The same goes for Hassaine, whose “Soleil Amer” was nominated for the first Goncourt literary prize in France.
“The subject is not so much Algeria, it is the departure, the uprooting”, explains Hassaine, 30 years old.
“I wanted to talk about France and the way the first generation of immigrants was treated – racism. But I didn’t want to do it with anger. I just wanted to tell the story as it was, because it was also a great story. “
© 2021 AFP